Existence of Fear Precedes Essence -Desh Subba

Jean Paul Sartre, "Existence precedes essence."

Desh Subba, "Existence of fear precedes essence."

-Desh Subba

The ontological relationship of essence to existence is one of the controversial big topics in philosophical history. What is their right relationship? Is it merely a joke? Or is it a serious challenge in the human quest for truth?  

In my experience, readers mostly don't want to enter into very serious thought of the inner core part of philosophy’s debates, and with essence and existence this is also the case. They usually either comment from a surface reaction or a mocking smile. It is a characteristic of mass general readers to not engage deeper into such queries because they read for the sake of reading itself. After reading, they do nothing. They are free in their choice, duty and responsibility, no pressure to go further because they are independent reader. Few readers have the deeper interest. They might think once about these two sayings above. I hope they will think beyond a mere blind belief of classical existentialism (e.g., Sartre). Erecting beliefs upon the Eifel Tower of Old Existentialism, cannot penetrate unveiling new logic, no, not even hammering with a new logical hammer will be enough. So to see through original existentialism’s beliefs we need to throw provocative light upon the old shadows of Existentialism and philosophy itself.  

I think an example of a challenging question for them is the case of the Mad Man.

In original existentialism belief (e.g., Jean Paul Sartre) says existence precedes essence. It is a breath of Existentialist or Existentialism via their Land Mark? If existentialists are surviving in the philosophical world; Reason is their trusty Land Mark. But I think an example of a challenging question for them is the case of the Mad Man.  

Why a Mad Man doesn't precede essence? He is an existence and he has consciousness. Existence of insane is like essence vice versa. In practical terms, Existence doesn't directly precede essence. If we accept it then, why existence of Mad Man doesn't precede essence? 

My conclusion is: Only existence of fear precedes essence. Exploring for food, shelter and practicing a worship of nature was not because of existence, it was because of existence of fear. Existence itself is virtually a senseless entity or state of being. It cannot activate towards essence without motivational drive(s); activation towards essence is made due to fear. Even Mad Man has some sense though he/she cannot precede any essence. We can take another example of an infant. Existence of Infant doesn’t precede essence because their consciousness, sense and knowledge are not ready to explorer essence. Until they don't know themselves whether they are stone or man, how one can precede to essence. Condition of the infant and insane is more or less the same. In their condition existence precedes essence or essence precedes existence; it doesn't make a difference to them.  

Later Kant mixed up empiricist and rationalist and developed critical philosophy.

First existence is like nominal sense. Nominal means in the sense equal to infant and insane.  Nominal sense processes towards more consciousness. Sense, step by step separates into consciousness and knowledge. Many philosophers have worked out how knowledge comes after consciousness(?). Later Kant mixed up empiricist and rationalist and developed critical philosophy. I have given a map of understanding life-consciousness-knowledge-fear as developmental. This knowledge is acquired from sense organs, incident, environment, necessity and conditional reflex in the stage of unconsciousness, semi-consciousness and consciousness accordingly. When it comes to age of knowledge, first stage is fear of existence. Fear of existence changes into existence of fear. Existence of fear precedes essence. Existence of fear means knowledge of fear. Knowledge of fear precedes essence. Thus existence of fear precedes essence not only existence precedes to essence.

Article is edited by R. Michael Fisher


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  • RCGC, yes, I think much could be gained by investigating Schopenhaer and Nietzsche re: fearism. I have done a few preliminary papers on Schopenhauer and fear and fearless standpoint theory: 



    Schopenhauer on Fear
    text as original form
  • Very intersting, Desh!

    I think your poit of view comes back to another anthropological and ontological level. Existentialism did not get to the real root of existence, because talking about fear means talking about an animal impulse that not only refers to the human being. Perhaps the experience of fear is more related to the Will of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.


  • I think it is a basic idea that fear be before substance, but it is an idea that remains at the metaphysical threshold, because existence has to be taken in its entirety. Fear is indeed a basic engine but it is added to many other engines such as hope. Can we consider the mad man as evidence of the absence of the saying of existence that precedes essence?Is fear not born of thinking and awareness of danger? So the mad man may have reactions, but can we say that he is really afraid?

    • CK, you raise good questions. And, I am like you cautious of over-reductionistic (inflationism) re: fear as the 'total' and only motivation of interest in our inquiries. I prefer to talk about an "ecology of fear" as a foundational motivational complex of primal (predator-prey-defense) relations and dynamics, then higher spheres like sex/love, and then freedom are what I believe will give us some better deep motivational insights. Hope/Fear are like two-sides of the same coin, in most cases, of course, depending on how one defines these terms. 

  • I often asked for a theoretically stronger contribution from Desh, and I have to say that this post goes in the right direction, so I’ll try to give my theoretically stronger contribution, as an existentialism researcher and supporter. About Desh post, I would underline this few points:

    1 “The ontological relationship between essence and existence is a serious challenge in the human quest for truth”. I totally agree with this and this is probably the reason why I decided to study existentialism. There is a path that starts with Kant and ends with Jaspers, in which we have to consider that we cannot reach the objective Truth, so we should start to focus on reaching a subjective truth. In other words: we cannot reach the metaphysical ground of ontology (i.e. Truth), so we have to focus on existence as the subjective way towards one’s subjective truth, which is less universal than Truth, but still the only truth that we can reach.

    2 “Why a Mad Man doesn’t precede essence?”. This is an essential point that is central already in Kierkegaard and in the earlier reflections of existentialism: in Kierkegaard, we can say that the esthetical level (when one acts and decides every day in a different way, as the Mad Man would do) is not yet an existence, because there is an existence only when the subject chooses consciously and responsibly, with a strong engagement. Desh is right when he says that the way towards essence needs a motivational drive: existence must always go in a precise direction and, in this sense, existentialism is really near to philosophical phenomenology, since we always have to consider the goal we are moving towards (if there is existence, there is not just “consciousness”, but rather “consciousness of”). I still don’t know which role fear has in driving existence, but I am quite convinced from two assumptions: a) freedom is the capability of existence, namely the capability of moving in the path that I described in point 1, the capability of overcoming our limit in knowing the Truth and still finding a way towards the subjective value; b) existence starts always IN the world, giving a subjective shape to the natural/given datum, and it can never start from nothingness, as Sartre states.

    3 “Kant mixed up empiricism and rationalism and developed critical philosophy”. In my opinion, this is the heart of contemporary philosophy/thought. This Kantian statement means: things (empiricism) are essential and the subject (rationalism) is essential, they must feed a never-ending dialectic (critical philosophy).

    Desh is right when saying that “first existence is like nominal sense”, somehow it remembers the moment of the “thesis”, namely the first step of Hegel’s dialectic. I would rather say that this is the level in which freedom is a potentiality that is still not used. But the important part is how Kant reaches his critical philosophy and I guess that the process “understanding life-consciousness-knowledge-fear as developmental” should translate this process, even if I should reflect a bit more on it. In the three Critics, first of all Kant proves that man starts moving his first steps when trying to know the world, but he cannot reach the Truth in this way (Critique of Pure Reason); the subject can overcome the impossibility of a total and objective knowledge when he finds the categorical imperative of something that has the highest value, and so the man is free to go on in his way, even after discovering the impossibility of a total and objective knowledge (Critique of Practical Reason); thanks to imagination, we can sense “beauty”, namely the presence of a transcendental value in the immanence (Critique of Judgment). Even if Kant does not use existentialist terms, he is the one that opens to existentialism and to the dialectic between reality and free subjectivity that, in my opinion, founds human (and I somehow thing that Fearism and Fearlessness has my same ground, since they try to subjectively experience a datum, through fear).



    Professor Kumar is right about Sartre, but his statement about freedom is even more right: “If fear is managed well, freedom triumphs and choices are intentional. If not, freedom is still a distant dream and choices become forced”. Once more, I would say that without a proper actualisation of our capability of freedom, we cannot build that subjective essence that we call “existence”. In Sartre, the nausea is due to the absence of human roots in the world. Every form of existentialism must keep in mind Kant’s teaching and consider that existence is not actualised moving from nothingness, but rather from the datum of our body with its biological needs, our tradition/culture, the time and the space where we are born and the education we have received. Existence is the creation of something new from this datum (a new essence, namely the incarnation of subjective value), thanks to freedom. In this process, I think that fear is a key for keeping the human existential dialectic alive, and a positive approach to fear could/should involve a good existence. But this is the field of you all, so I just give this suggestion to you, hoping that it can be somehow useful.


    Coming to Michael words, I totally agree that “At no time perhaps more than at the present is it necessary for people to strip away the illusions [i.e., reductionistic fear imaginary] they live by and examine themselves and their motives realistically”. The author that I’m studying, Jeanne Hersch, analyses the condition of the philosophical illusion in XX century, in “L’illusion philosophique”. I am convinced too that “essence based philosophies” are unreliable today, and I would add that they would be even naïve. Fear could be a good answer to those positive principles that put an end to every kind of dialectic, as I have said before. But I think that renouncing to a positive ground would be dangerous too, leading to nausea, anxiety, shipwreck, being-towards-death and other negative categories that one can find in existentialism. In my opinion, in order to not develop a negative attitude in our search for an existence that build essence, we should always move from a common (universal?) ground, which still preserve our freedom and our capability of making the difference with our choices. In other words, to preserve our responsibility, especially in this time that often forgets to practically live what it theoretically thinks, as you all say. I leave to you all a “slogan” that always founds my researches and that positively remembers this dialectic I am talking about: “Through the capability of freedom, man is forced to go to the root, without being forced to any specific root”.

    • It is quite an astounding idea to sloganeer as 'through the capability of freedom, man is forced to go to root ....'

      Now the issue focuses on how to be capable of exercising freedom. Human life is as such ridden with instinctual compulsions like love(libido), destruction (destrudo), group behaviour (attachments) etc and also man-made restrictions like customs, traditions, norms, preconditions etc. 

      A paradox arises when man wants to be capable of being free, he needs first of all to unshackle the instinctual compulsions and man-made impediments. It is in this context perhaps that Thoreau asserted, 'I am designed to be free' whereas Sartre pronounced, 'Man is condemned to be free.' It is also again here that your slogan comes in, akin to Thoreau's and Sartre's in cascading shades. 

      Therefore, it is only when there is an unconditional access to freedom that man can do away with hindrances (instinctual as well as man-made) and vice versa. Man-made restrictions can also be in the form of self-imposed (self beliefs) or thrust upon by external factors like family obligations or social traditions etc. Combinations and permutations of these situations and factors pave way for the emergence of chances and opportunities accordingly, out of which man has to opt for his own choice and this choice involves his free will. 

      And if the free will is the result of calculated choices on rational basis as regards his existence firstly and then to essence; his endeavours can be construed as satisfying for himself amidst the socioeconomic and technological milieu. 

      In other words, as long as one is stuck in the quagmire of unscientific hesitations, superstitions and obstructions or sunk in the whirlpool of irrelevant regulations, we can say that it will be a Tantalus miss for the man since his efforts to gain capability to be free, wîll not come to fruition, though the target is within reach.

    • I hope that the slogan is astounding in a positive way!

      Thank you for your answer, I think you have focused the attention on some essential truths. In my opinion, "existing" is "doing-with", i.e. actualising/incarnating one's freedom doing something material (in the Greek concept of "poiesis"), always starting from the datum. This means that we have to use our freedom starting from the real condition, our body, our instinct, our beliefs, our culture/education. I think that doing IN the world without creating "ex nihilo" is the key: the world is the strong basement of existence, and probably it is the reason why Thoreau speaks of designation whereas Sartre speaks of condemn (I don't know Thoreau that well, but I know Sartre, and I'm convinced that his "nausea" comes from the lack of the datum of the world as a strong basement of existence).

      I also agree that the progress is first of all an enhancement of better access to freedom. Of course the subject has the responsibility of creating something good (an authentic existence) from those better conditions. And I think that you explained really well the role of science: in order to be free, we need to know, to understand better, to "educate" fear through knowledge, to avoid the "quagmire of unscientific hesitations, superstitions and obstructions". Science cannot let the existence own the Truth, but is essential for having a better knowledge, taking better decision and build a more authentic/free existence.


    • Yes .. your slogan is astounding in a positive way. 

      I agree with your opinion that 'existence' is nothing but actualising freedom so as to create something good from the conditions that are already there, but not ex nihilo. Your assertion that "doing in the world without creating 'ex nihilo' is the key" is truly, as I suppose, the key to whole affairs of freedom. I also don't see anything concrete in saying that something could be made out of nothing. Anything to be made or created has to emerge from something which might be in a different form. For example, let us take periodic table. Any element can be transformed into a new element by addition or subtraction of protons through bombardment, though the resultant element is unstable. 
      Similarly, man's psyche or position is unstable as far as his life is concerned. That means, his existence is unstable. Accordingly is his essence. Just the same way as the whole universe is in a flux like galaxies and black holes are constantly moving for stability and space-time continuum is incessantly contracting as well as expanding simultaneously for balance, man's thoughts and actions also go on  changing so as to make his position (existence/ essence) stable and balanced in his own universe called life. It is in here that man requires, as you said, full access to freedom so that he can take better decisions as per his wisdom and knowledge he had at that particular time, in order to grab a better position which means stability for the time being.

      There is also one point which is related to the fate of a mad man. I think that my proposition here is for consideration as regards sane man, referring literally to Homo sapiens (wise man). 

      So, today's stable position of man may get threatened or strengthened depending upon various socioeconomic-political-technological disruptions which take place from time to time and place to place. Extremes in enjoying or missing freedom may not go well for balancing in individual and social lives. Ultimately, man has to stabilise himself in terms of existence and essence by making use of his freedom wisely. Any compulsions or restrictions (self-imposed or forced upon) will lead to curtailment of freedom, hence he may fail to make his choices as consequence to that effect.  
      Likewise, Fisherian fearlessness and Subbaiyan fearism will help the man moderate his freedom levels towards a safe and secure existence. Rational fearlessness and rational fear, inter alia, will also enable him to exercise his freedom judiciously for a satisfying and self-actualising essence. However, extent of lack of freedom on the part of man will commensurately lead to the same degree of Sartrean nausea or Camusean absurdity.

    • The example of the periodic table is really inspiring, thank you! Probably I will use it in future, I never thought at it in this way. You're right when you talk of finding a stability while changing: never changing is not possible, and the challenge is changing with the world while preserving/giving new shapes to that "subjective essence" that we have chosen for us.

      I agree with you about your judgement on Fearism and Fearlessness Movement... I'm still not convinced at all that fear is the ground of existence, but for sure those reflections can be a good practical enhancement of a secure existence and an authentic use of freedom. Lack of freedom is a huge problem, that's the reason why I think that a strong reasoning on "external conditions of freedom" is as important as the reasoning on the "use of internal freedom".

      Do you feel comfortable in comparing Sartre and Camus in this context? In my opinion, Camus loves life and living the world, so, in this sense, he is far more "realist" than Sartre... He would never say that existence is made out of nothing (I don't know how to explain it in few words... I always had some problems with Camusean attitude, because he gives back importance to the world, but, in my opinion, his "absurdity" is not yet that satisfying attitude that I expect from a realist existentialist). After my studies, I would say that the lack of freedom, better saying the lack of the sense of freedom, can lead to boredom (when all the ways are the same and I can't find the right direction for me, why should I move?) or despise (when the natural wonder towards the world and his "possibilities of freedom" is somehow debased. In this sense, Heidegger could be a good example, since he feels wonder just for what is deep in his point of view, while despising all the rest). I would love to hear your opinion on those last points!

    • Nice reflections for us PS. I am an integralist, with great appreciation for existentialist positions (vast and varied as they are). I tend to look for corrections too in philosophie over the ages and up to today. It seems every branch of philosophy tries to correct the past branches, and/or just 'flies' off on a whole new tangent. 

      Okay, just want to pick up on one point of epistemological and ontological importance. I am not sure what you'd say to this position (a la integralist). You wrote, "There is a path that starts with Kant and ends with Jaspers, in which we have to consider that we cannot reach the objective Truth, so we should start to focus on reaching a subjective truth." First, I ask in a critical sense who is the "we" who cannot reach objective Truth? I am concerned in your claim and the philosophers of that ilk that they are rather over-assuming they (mostly Eurocentric) have the last say on Truth--even objective Truth. There is lots of brilliant thinking and wisdom before Kant on Truth, and objective and subjective truths--that served societies well before the Enlightenment (albeit, no such 'system' is perfect). As an integralist I would challenge that we have to abandon as contemporary philosophers (or as general seekers from any discipline) that just because there is some subjectivist aspects to all knowledge production (which I can accept on one level)--there is a lot more to be troubled that objective truth(s) (small o, and small t) are not always co-forming and evolving to what subjective truth(s) have to reveal. Maybe you agree. However, your written statement tends to be a bit too extreme and I think perhaps is based on a fallacy pursuit that somehow that objective "Truth" is even the right direction to go, so if it is not, as I am claiming, then why go for it at all and then when it disappoints us in being impossible to reach we head off (or some do) in search of the Subjective realm for truth and Truth? If you can follow my rambling, I am merely suggesting an elegant potency to not rejecting one end of the continuum of ontology-epistemology and falling into the road down to a radical subjectivism (as ideology, with its own rigid problems that the ideology of objectivism has)-- something like that. 

      Regarding Fear Studies as I have proposed since early 2000, the integralist position would take in a 4 quadrant basic model of knowledge and knowing in order to 'best' understand fear (and 'fear')-- that is, (1) Subjective trajectory, (2) Objective trajectory, (3) Individualist trajectory and (4) Communalist trajectory -- it is all 4, with no one quadrant of knowing or methodological approach is to dominate for any phenomenon under investigation. Thus, I propose a integral fear studies approach--and, it gets more complex than that but this is the Wilberian way I find more satisfying and elegant than playing along the 'old' road of philosophies battling over existence vs. essence,  objectivism vs. subjectivism, or absolutism vs. relativism... I guess, I'm still asking questions about all this. 


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